"Public Enemy Number One"
A Fond Memory for Lake Hamilton's Edgar Lewis

by Lize Mittenzwei, Staff Writer
Daily News Chief, Aug. 10th, 1977
Winter Haven, FL.

FLAGBAR 501x15

She was once known as “Public Enemy Number One”, the one to get.

But she also earned the title of “The One-Ship Fleet.”

If all of the ships of the Japanese Navy, destroyed by the US heavy cruiser Salt Lake City (SLC), were laid end to end they would add up to a mighty pile of wreckage.

Yes, she was Public Enemy Number One to the Japanese and the One-Ship Fleet to the United States, but she is dead, a victim of over-radiation during nuclear testing in the Pacific, but her memory is very much alive to those who served aboard her.

Even in death she was valiant. it took five hours of bombardment by her own country to send the heavy cruiser to her watery grave in the ocean where she had once served as heroine.

Memories of service aboard the ship will puncture the air this week, much like the shells she fired punctured the air during the battles she engaged in during World War II.

Crew members of the SLC, and their families, will gather in Orlando Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for their third annual reunion. They will relive the joys and the sadness they once shared and for them long ago will seem like just yesterday. Among them will be Edgar Lewis of lake Hamilton.

The reunion will be held at the Hyatt House Hotel, off Interstate-4. The ship’s first reunion was held two years ago in the city the ship was named to honor, Salt Lake City, Utah. The second reunion was held last year in San Diego, CA.

Lewis, who retired from the U.S. Navy as Lt. Commander in 1969, served as gunner’s mate second class aboard the SLC from Feb. 1941 until Dec. 1943.

A resident of Lake Hamilton since 1973, Lewis described his memories of service aboard the heroic ship as a time of “tremendous togetherness among the crew.”

“The day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese the SLC was in company with the carrier Enterprise and two other destroyers near Pearl harbor in a task force headed by Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey,” said the retired Naval officer.

“We had departed Pearl Harbor on Nov. 26th, 1941, with the Enterprise to deliver planes to a Marine detachment on Wake Island for its defensive unit. We were returning to Pearl Harbor when the attack occurred.”

The heavy cruiser and her companion ships steamed into the harbor the morning after the attack, joining the effort to rebuild the United State’s fighting capabilities.

At the time of the attack on Pearl harbor the SLC was under the command of Capt. Ellis Zacharias, the first of several men to command the ship during the war. Zacharias was very much responsible, Lewis said, for the togetherness feeling among the crew, and this feeling continued as the ship changed command during the war.

FLAGBAR 501x15


Moment in History Captured
Captain Ellis M. Zacharias, former naval intelligence officer in Japan before WWII, announces to his crew aboard the SLC that Pearl Harbor is being bombed at that moment. This photograph will be among many displayed at the ship's reunion. [Photo courtesy of Edgar Lewis]

FLAGBAR 501x15

The SLC participated in many battles throughout the war. it was during the notable battle of Wotje Island, part of the Marshall Islands, that the SLC earned the title of “The One-Ship Fleet” from the United States and “Public Enemy Number One” from the Japanese.

The ship criss-crossed the Pacific as the battles of the war grew more and more intense. Her heroism was marked by participation in the second battle of Savo Island where the SLC, assisted by other ships, sank one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser, one destroyer, one transport, one submarine tender and three other auxiliaries.

“During that battle,” said Lewis, “with the light cruiser Boise afire and being pounded by enemy fire, the SLC ran between the Boise and the enemy to shield the American ship from fire. The SLC blasted the rival ship out of the water.”

But the ship was not always successful in aiding its country while avoiding danger. Five onboard the SLC were killed and another destroyer in the fleet was lost when the ship was hit at Guadacanal. It then spent four months undergoing repairs but rejoined the fleet in time to take on the Battle of Komandorski in the Aleutians on March 26th, 1943 when the SLC, one light cruiser and four destroyers took on two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and six destroyers of the Japanese Navy. Again the SLC was hit. For a time her crew, as the ship lay paralyzed from fire, thought it had seen the end, but after being provided cover by other ships, she was able to come back to life and resume battle.

More repairs were done on the ship and she bounced back into action to join the invasion group of Tarawa and ultimately was to steam into the Japanese port of Ominato at the close of the war to accept the port’s surrender.

In 1946 the ship was taken to the Bikini Atoll where she survived both of the United State’s atomic bomb tests. Over-radiation during the testing spelled the end for the ship.

Built in 1926 at Camden, N.J., the ship had been commissioned in 1929 to begin her naval career. When the war broke out in the Pacific she was no youngster, Lewis said. her guns may have been considered antiquated in comparison to the ships that were then being built, but the 10 eight-inch, eight five-inch and four turret guns effectively quelled many a Japanese ship in battle.

The ship went down on May 25th, 1948, a veteran of 31 Pacific Naval battles.

Two swift and clean torpedo hits sank the cruiser after bombs, shells and rockets from 15 ships and scores of planes had battered her sturdy hull for about five hours during gunnery-bombing exercises for the 1st Task Fleet off the California coast.

The grave of the SLC is in the Great Depths, 130 miles off Southern CA. coast where she lies in more than 2,000 fathoms of water.

FLAGBAR 501x15

Return to Index
Edgar E. Lewis, GM2c
Newspaper article contributed by Lloyd A. Morgan ball-red-02 Deceased
Capt. Ellis M. Zacharias

FLAGBAR 501x15


The address of this page is lewis_edgar.htm
Send Questions, Comments or Report Problems to Website Curator, Sandy Eskew
Return to SLC Main Index for Email Address